Last week I travelled up to Orkney – not with Nordic Viola this time, but with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for the St. Magnus Festival. Nevertheless, with our performance of Sagas and Seascapes at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase just 2 months away, returning to Orkney a year after we filmed there was an emotional experience.
Passing the Old Man of Hoy which features in our film of Linda Buckley’s Aud and then rounding the corner of Hoy and seeing the mountains exactly as captured in Orla Steven’s painting to Elsewhen by Lillie Harris.
On Sunday I had time to travel to Rousay, a new island for me. The weather was wild, with gale force winds. I found myself wondering how Aud would have experienced this coastline back in the 9th century, what her emotions were as she passed the imposing cliffs on her way to a new life in Iceland.
Cycling on the south side of Rousay, we looked across Eynhallow sound towards the Broch of Gurness where Gemma McGregor reflected on the journey of St. Magnus to his death in Egilsay. The tidal races through the sound are famously fast, and we were treated to a view of them in full flow. Travelling back to Tingwall on the mainland, I saw St. Magnus’ Chruch on Egilsay for the first time. You can read more about the influence of Magnus’ story on Gemma McGregor over on our sister site, sagasandseascapes.com
I felt the ghosts of these ancient peoples all around me after working so intensively with Craig Sinclair over the last few weeks on new film for our first multimedia live performance of Sagas and Seascapes at the Scottish Storytelling Centre 15th-17th August. Book your tickets here. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, we will also be screening it online on 18th August. Tickets are free here. The screening will be followed by a zoom Q and A with the composrs, artist Orla Stevens and myself.
Recital in Iceland
After briefly touching base, I’ll be travelling to Iceland for the first time since 2019 to perform in the Summer Concert Series at the beautiful Bláakirkjan in Seyđisfjörđur in the East Fjords on 6th July. I’m really looking forward to performing again with pianist Arnhildur Valgarđsdóttir in what I’m sure will be a special event. The last time I played in this gorgeous church with a wonderful acoustic was right at the start of my travels with Nordic Viola in 2016. Back then, I had no idea that Nordic Viola would grow into the project that it is now.
I’ve been enjoying repertoire new and old as I practise for the concert. I’ve been getting to know Jón Thorarinsson’s sonata, which was written originally for clarinet. It’s a delightful three-movement work, full of melody and some jaunty rhythms. Thorarinsson was actually born in Eiðar near Egilsstaðir, just up the road from Seyðisfjörður and a place I know very well!
On a much larger scale is Adrian Vernon Fish’s “Qaanaaq Sonata” inspired by the eponymous settlement in North Greenland. It’s a monumental work which challenges both players and moves from the starkness of the Arctic landscape, through a warm, lyrical melody ( melody is a real feature of Adrian’s music) and onto a wild and exhilarating dog-sled ride in a rather funky 13/8 rhythm. As I play, my thoughts will be with one of the driving forces in music education in Greenland, Per Rosing, who is currently in hospital in Denmark.
Whilst l’m in the East Fjords, I hope to have a few days’ holiday in Borgafjörđur Eystri on the north east coast and to catch up with friends in Egilsstađir.
I know many of you really enjoy following Nordic Viola’s trips to the Far North. It’s been a long hiatus and I hope you’ll enjoy hooking up with me and learning more about the music, cultures and landscapes of this most stunning and intriguing part of our beautiful planet. I can’t wait to travel North once more!
Lots of news to tell you this month! First of all, the great news that our Crowdfunder campaign that we have been running to raise money towards our performances of Sagas and Seascapes at Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been very successful. Thank you so much to all the generous people who have contributed to that. It means we can support our musicians properly with rehearsal and travel costs. I have also been able to commission Orla to paint us a new piece in response to Eli Tausen á Lava‘s Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (The Tale of the Sealwoman in 10 pictures). More of that in a minute!
If you haven’t contributed yet and would like to, then you can still do so by clicking here. Additional money over £2000 will be put towards a CD recording which we are aiming to produce in 2023. Alternatively, if crowdfunding is not for you, remember you can help us by visiting our shop. (Payment via PayPal, or use the contact form with your requirements and I can arrange payment by card).
We’ve also received some generous pledges from three businesses local to me. Working within the community is very important to me, whether that’s close to home or when I’m resident in other communities when performing in the Far North, so I’m delighted to be able to offer a free workshop for children in Dunblane as a way of saying thank you to these donors. I’ll introduce you to our sponsors and tell you more about the workshops once I’ve finalised details with everybody.
On 5th March, Orla Stevens and I ran our first joint workshop, Tuning In To The Trossachs, in Aberfoyle in Central Scotland. We were blessed with a crisp, clear spring day and enjoyed the morning outside in the forests collecting sounds and making sketches. In the afternoon we gathered in the hall to draw our ideas together, making graphic scores from the sketches and making some sound sketches using found sounds, instruments and our voices. The emphasis was discovery, reflection and process rather than an end goal, but we are nonetheless pleased with the sounds we made, which capture the peace and beauty of where we were working. Have a listen here:
The Tale of the Sealwoman
Finally, a little more on that collaboration between Orla Stevens and Eli Tausen á Lava. Eli’s piece for flute and clarinet was a joint commission between the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo and Nordic Viola. Edinburgh will see its first live performance in the UK. The music is inspired by the legend of seals (selkies in Scotland) who change into human form on land. These legends are common throughout Norse and Celtic mythology, and you can find out more about them here.
Orla and Eli met for the first time via Zoom a couple of weeks ago. You can see some of their initial ideas in one of our crowdfunder updates below and also read more over on Orla’s website.
As you see, there is a lot going on with Nordic Viola just now. Our next key date will be the Made in Scotland Press Launch on 31st May so please do subscribe to keep up with all our news in the run-up to Edinburgh.
I thought I’d just take a bit of time to tell you a little bit more about what to expect on the day in case you’re not sure whether to sign up.
Orla and I have spent the last year or so working on Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project. We’ve become increasingly interested in how music influences art and vice versa. We also share a love of the outdoors, of northern landscapes in particular and the cultures that surround them and we want to share this with you.
Both of us have worked experimentally and are great believers in being able to express ourselves freely without worrying about “getting it right.” Our workshop will be very much exploratory, allowing you to paint and make sound in the way that expresses your feelings about being outdoors. We’ll encourage you to try both art and music. Orla got me drawing again after a 40 year break, because she gave me permission to work quickly and just draw what I felt without fear of judgement. If I can, you can!
For me, music is about so much more than playing the notes right. Even if you’ve never played an instrument, there are sounds all around you. You can make recordings and perhaps shape them into a soundscape, you can find objects lying around that create sound and you can use your own voice. Equally, if you want to write a good honest lyrical melody inspired by your surroundings, then that’s great, too.
We’ll aim to produce a graphic score and a short piece of music/sound art by the end of our day.
Our workshop is open to anyone aged 14 or over. It is fully accessible as even the outdoor part of the day has level access and parking. Just let us know in advance via Eventbrite or the contact form here, and we’ll arrange to meet you.
Tickets in advance from Eventbrite. Just 8 places left as of Monday, so sign up quickly!
I’ll leave you with a couple of short video clips where we talk about our work together.
I will be taking part in two workshops over the next month or so.
Soundwalk with The Bard of the Birds – 27th February 2pm – Online
The Soundwalk with the Bard of the Birds is part 2 of the Modern Chants project run by composer Ruta Vitkauskaite. Part 1 was an online concert in November where, following the many voices of the ancient goddess Cailleach, we ventured on a journey into the Gaelic and Old Norse imagery with poems by Dawn Wood. Music was by Ruta Vitkauskaite, Gemma McGregor, and Emily Doolittle and was inspired by winds, lochs, birds and bagpiping. You can hear some of the music in this playlist.
As spring emerges, The Bard of the Birds invites you to join her for a new music and storytelling experience where you will experience your surroundings in a new way.
Whether you live in the city or countryside, your days are beginning to grow longer as spring emerges and nature finds her way through cracks in the walls and pavements, and through sunlight and birdsong. It can be easy to miss these details.
The event starts on Zoom with an introduction from The Bard of the Birds. You will then be invited to take a walk (approx. 45 min) around your area. You don’t need to travel to any particular location. Indeed, if you feel more comfortable, you can even enjoy the soundwalk from inside your own home, looking through the window at the world outside.
On your walk, you will listen to a soundtrack featuring poems and stories by Dawn Wood, nature-inspired music by Ruta Vitkauskaite, Gemma McGregor, and Emily Doolittle, performed by clarinettist Joanna Nicholson and violist Katherine Wren with electronic sounds by Ellie Cherry and sound design by Chris Adams.
When you return from your walk, we will meet you back on Zoom and invite you to share your experiences with us.
Many of you will have seen the beautiful work that Orla Stevens created for Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project. Working together has opened up many new avenues for both our work and we’re really excited to share with you some of the new ways of working that we’ve discovered.
We will be leading an art and music workshop in Aberfoyle in the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, close to our homes.
We will spend the morning outdoors watching and listening to the nature around us. We will collect sounds and make sketches as well as looking for objects that we can use to draw and to create sound.
In the afternoon we will split into 2 groups working in turn with Katherine and Orla at the Memorial Hall, Aberfoyle. Katherine will explore ways of sounding the landscape using instruments, our voices, found objects and recorded sound. We will learn about the elements that make up music and about how these help us to structure sound.
Orla will lead the drawing element of the workshop, exploring intuitive and expressive approaches to sounds and landscapes using both found objects and traditional art materials to create artworks and graphic scores.
At the end of the afternoon we will come together to explore how we can use graphic scores (a visual alternative to reading musical notation) to explore how shape, colour and composition can inspire sounds, and vice versa, finishing with an informal group performance.
Age Range: age 14-adult
Experience: No prior experience required, but if you play an instrument, please bring it along. Art materials will be provided.
Tickets are selling fast, so log on to Eventbrite here to book your place.
A reflective post today looking back on the initial shock of the music world closing down in March 2020 and how, with a little bit of help from the RPS Enterprise Fund in association with Harriet’s Trust, Nordic Viola found new and exciting ways of working and of reaching our audiences around Scotland, the North Atlantic and beyond.
Entering the pandemic and a crash course in digital production
As covid began its grip on the world, Nordic Viola were just on the verge of travelling to Shetland for the University of the Highlands and Islands‘ “Histories and Herstories” Conference. I remember sitting on stage with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as we entered lockdown wondering how my project, formed in travel, could ever survive such a thing. But musicians are resourceful people and our project was very quickly repurposed to become a digital concert for the Orkney International Science Festival instead.
But where to begin? I could make rudimentary recordings but I was clueless about video. Step in Creative Scotland who provided me with top notch support and encouraged me to aim high and work with a top quality video professional. And so began what would become a fruitful partnership with Craig Sinclair Video.
Me and my team of wonderful and resourceful musicians (violinists Emily Nenniger, Anne Bünemann and cellist Ruth Rowlands) swiftly learned to record in our own homes and Craig and I set about interviewing composers online before Craig offered us remote support to film our own performances which he then pieced together with stock footage of the North Atlantic region (filming his own footage being forbidden in lockdown!).
And so our first digital concert was born.
A world opens up
Very quickly I learned that, far from being the end of Nordic Viola, this was actually a new beginning. Touring abroad is an expensive business, environmentally as well as financially, but now we had a way of reaching audiences far and wide from the safety and comfort of our own homes. Not only that, but I had a way for the composers to speak directly to audiences, putting a face and a personality behind the music.
So far, so good, but using professionals for every short piece of video is an expensive business. I needed to learn how to make my own content, saving my financial resources for larger-scale performances, and I needed better equipment to do it. Step in the Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund. This amazing organisation exists to create opportunities for musicians to excel and champions the vital role that music plays in everybody’s lives. They are a relatively small organisation with a very big heart indeed. TheRPS Enterprise Fund offered individual performers and chamber music groups the means to strengthen and transform the extent of their creativity, connectivity, profile and revenue, encouraging us to think entrepreneurially.
Sagas and Seascapes
Following on from our first collaboration with Orkney International Science Festival, in 2021 we embarked on a much more ambitious project, Sagas and Seascapes. This project brought in many professionals from other fields and involved the creation of artwork for the project from Orla Stevens. Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden from the RSNO recorded our performances in Glasgow and Craig was able to do his own filming on location in Orkney with me and the composers. It seemed the perfect project for me to take as a basis for developing my own technical skills.
The first part of my learning was to watch the professionals at work. I learned how Hedd ran a recording a session, how audio and video worked together and and picked Hedd and Craig’s brains about equipment and software.
On-location in Orkney, I happily handed over the reins of project management to Craig and watched how he pre-interviewed the composers, planned a shoot and managed the team on location.
Sagas and Seascapes was an ambitious programme and I learned a fair bit about people-management, too, as everything came together and deadlines needed to be met! After a week of working through the night, adrenaline was running high as Sags and Seascapes premiered at the science festival!
Meanwhile, my new microphones and audio interface were proving their worth. I was literally 24 hours away from performing live at the Scottish Awards for New Music when I got pinged! And so, as I awaited my PCR result, I got down to recording Eddie McGuire‘s Legend and Electra Perivolaris‘ Geese Flying Over My Head and into the Distance in audio and video. Without this equipment, I’d have lost a fee and left New Music Scotland with a gap to fill on very short notice. Thank you RPS!
Video Training Course
With the year’s big project in the bag, it was time to learn more formally from Craig how to produce my own small-scale video. Craig devised a 4-part course covering pre-production, filming, editing and distribution. Following an intense 4-hour online session where I learned how to identify the needs of my audience, plan my filming and interviewing and set up my camera properly, we moved onto the fun part – filming!
I wanted the session to produce something engaging and useful to myself and others, so we decided to invite our project artist, Orla Stevens, along, so that we could learn together and also produce a film that we could both use to publicise our work.
In the editing session, I learned so much about working quickly and efficiently with my material. I moved from randomly grabbing bits of material and putting it together in a haphazard way to learning to plan the shape of my video, gather together the material in advance and really tell a story. I also learned just how much B-Roll film you need to cover an interview – thanks to Craig for letting me use some of his Orkney footage and to Orla for filming the paintings! Baby steps, but I’m secretly very pleased with my first “proper” little film.
What I learned and where we go from here!
There were so many things I learned along the path from having absolutely no idea where to start with producing a video concert to taking on a project with the scope of Sagas and Seascapes and, finally, making my own tiny outdoor filming project and interview.
Here are my takeaways:
Record absolutely everything – you never know when you might need it!
Invest in quality equipment, especially microphones – it really does make a difference
For big, important digital projects, employ professionals – it’s worth the money
BUT don’t be afraid to try new things yourself – it’s fun, you learn a lot and make new connections
Share with your colleagues. Knowing I was part of a group of musicians handpicked by the RPS for their enterprising attitude was empowering and inspiring and gave me the confidence to go for it
Help others – I hope I can continue that sharing with my close colleagues, helping with equipment and sharing my experiences from working with such an amazing team of creative people.
And a few useful links for my Scottish colleagues in particular:
Craig Sinclair Video – first and foremost if you need someone to produce film for you, but also for some top-notch tuition and mentoring!
Sound Scotland – This innovative new music organisation does much to encourage creativity amongst musicians and also offers support and new opportunities through peer group meetings such as their fortnightly Cofveve sessions.
New Music Scotland – organisation supporting composers and performers working in New Music – training sessions, resources, a meeting point.
Our time together in Orkney in July was very special. It’s not so often that a group of composers get together to work on a project on location in a beautiful place like this and especially so during a pandemic. As a performer I felt privileged to listen to their conversations and to watch Orla at work learning about the music and the stories that inspired the pieces. I then enjoyed following the progress of the paintings as Orla worked in her own experience of the landscapes as well as the music.
The whole project was brought together by video producer, Craig Sinclair, and included shots of Orla making the art set to the music that inspired it.
Orla has very kindly produced a special edition of greetings cards and fine art prints of the paintings and you can now purchase these directly via Nordic Viola at our new shop. Alternatively, you can visit Orla’s own website for these and much more. They’ll make perfect Christmas presents, so please do have a browse!
Linda’s evocative score reimagines the journey of Aud the Deep-Minded from Norway and Ireland via Caithness, Orkney and Faroe to Iceland, where she was one of the early settlers in the 9th century. Linda wrote the piece during lockdown and, as well as telling the ancient story of Aud, the music is full of a sense of yearning to travel again to the Far North.
Lillie Harris’Elsewhen explores the mystery of the ancient standing stones of Orkney. You can hear Lillie talking about the piece onsite in Orkney here.
The programme is bookended by the Danish String Quartet’s delightful arrangements of the Unst Boat Song from Shetland and The Dromer, a Danish folk dance based on the Scottish reel “The Drummer.” Both these tunes are taken from the Danish String Quartet’s Last Leaf album.
I’m sure that a lot of you will be intrigued by the beautiful paintings above. They were specially commissioned by Nordic Viola for our Sagas and Seascapes series from Orla Stevens. Orla is currently resident in Callander, but grew up in Dunblane. She travelled with myself and the composers to Orkney to explore the landscapes and concepts behind the music.
Orla’s beautiful prints connected to the music will be available to order at the concert, alongside greetings cards with her beautiful images. If you can’t wait that long, you can also order them here.
Early July was a landmark for Nordic Viola: our first trip north since September 2019 and our first live performance since Covid-19 started. We headed out to Orkney with 3 composers, a landscape artist, a video producer and me – the largest team we’ve ever taken on tour and our most ambitious project yet.
The theme uniting all three pieces is Orkney’s history and genetic heritage. Central to our narrative is “Aud”, the remarkable woman who, in the 9th century set sail from Caithness to Iceland. On her way to settling in North West Iceland, she landed in Orkney, where one of her granddaughters, Gróa, was married. Remarkably, in Erik the Red’s Saga we can trace Aud’s line via Gróa and her daughter Grélaður, who married Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson, Earl of Orkney (also known as Thorfinn Skull-splitter) into the Orkneyinga Saga and down to Saint Magnus, subject of Gemma McGregor’s “Carry His Relics.” Gemma’s piece reflects on the journey of Magnus’ relics along what is now the St. Magnus Way and we explored the historic links through the ages as we traced the first part of this journey from the Broch of Gurness to the Brough of Birsay where Magnus was schooled in the monastery.
The Broch of Gurness is a remarkable place. Craig had us up bright and early and so we had the privilege of having the site to ourselves, a very special experience. Dating back to the Iron Age, this site, like our programme, also links into later Viking settlements, as the grave of a Viking woman was found at Gurness, along with some grave-goods – a sickle blade and a pair of ‘tortoise’ brooches.
As we visited this and other older, prehistoric sites such as the Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe, which all inspired Lillie Harris’ “Elsewhen” we talked about how “Aud”, too, may well have shared in our wonder at these ancient sites, too. This promoted many discussions about how humans perceive time and whether these sites would have seemed just as ancient to Aud as they do to us – how exactly do humans measure timescales over thousands of years? For me, these musings are strongly represented in the eery, slightly disturbing quality of Lillie’s music.
Our filming culminated with interviews in St. Magnus Church, Birsay, generously hosted by Robin Barr and preceded by some much-needed downtime over a packed lunch (and the famous Birsay tea shop pies!) in Robin and Anne’s beautiful garden. During filming, Orla had taken time to sketch down some preliminary ideas and, in her wonderfully natural and enabling way, she encouraged us to express ourselves by drawing down by the beach between interviews – even those like me who haven’t produced any art since secondary school! Orla stayed on in Orkney to consolidate her ideas and you can read some of her initial thoughts here.
A Live Concert
Trips north with Nordic Viola are always packed affairs as we pack in as much activity as we can. One of the reasons for this is to lessen environmental impact by traveling less frequently but also simply from a desire to make the most of our time in the islands.
And so Gemma and I collaborated with Orkney Arts Society to give one of the first live events in Scotland since lockdown ended. I cannot even begin to explain to you how sweet it felt to play to a live audience again. Even with a masked audience, that feeling of connecting with people again was so special. One of the most important things for me in Nordic Viola is meeting after concerts to share experiences with audiences. Even at level 0, distance still needed to be respected but it felt so nice to talk informally with people after the event.
Our programme was entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” and included music for viola and flute by talented young Scottish composers Electra Perivolaris, Ailie Robertson and Kristain Rasmussen as well as Faroese composer Kári Bæk. I also performed live on my new viola d’amore for the first time in my arrangement of traditional Shetland tune “Da Day Dawn” and “Tirrick” (Orcadian for Arctic Tern) a reel I commissioned from Fiona Driver. Thanks to generous funding from Chamber Music Scotland’s Transition Fund, Gemma wrote a companion piece to “Carry His Relics” called “The Trysted Shore”. Inspired by George Mackay Brown’s poem “Magnus” (this year mark’s GMB’s centenary) it depicts Magnus’ betrayal on the island of Egilsay.
A note on travel and sustainability
Before I wrap up this blog, I’d just like to reflect briefly on our travel choices for this trip. As the world deals with the climate emergency, travel is becoming a point of focus for many musicians. Travel is obviously intrinsic to the Nordic Viola project so it is vital to consider how this is done with minimal impact.
A lifelong cyclist, this has been an intrinsic part of my thinking since my twenties. However, I do recognise that not everyone wants to be subjected to travelling the length and breadth of Orkney in a howling gale with instrument (and tent) strapped to back. I actually also believe that being too dogmatic is not always the best way to persuade people to change transport habits. For me, the most important premise is to carefully think through travel options and to understand the impact they have, making balanced, informed choices.
I asked the team where possible to choose surface transport and this was, in the main, achieved. A couple of people did need to fly due to scheduling constraints, but again, the important point is that other alternatives were explored first. Our hand was also forced by the fact that Scotrail is not currently offering a Sunday service.
Some car use was necessary to carry filming equipment. I was also concerned at rising Covid cases in Orkney at that time. After a fair bit of soul searching, I decided that the safety of my team, the island population and the need to maintain bubbles within the two accommodation groups was paramount. We did carshare but ended up using one more car than I’d wanted to. I feel quite uncomfortable about that but I believe it was a pragmatic decision in light of the circumstances. I still managed to travel back from the final session by bike (into a howling gale, of course!) as well as touring on my free days on two wheels. I am also proud that my team only own 2 vehicles between 6 people plus partners. Hiring and borrowing vehicles leads to lower car use in the longterm and I’d love to see more people considering this.
Nordic Viola is supported by:
Linda Buckley is supported by:
The concert for Orkney Arts Society, including a new commission by Gemma McGregor was supported by:
This week is a landmark week for Nordic Viola in several respects. First and foremost, it’s the first time we’ve headed north since UHI’s Shoormal Conference in September 2019. (Little did we know then what was coming.) It seems an age ago and yet, in the scheme of things, 2 years isn’t so long.
So what are we up to? We have a team of composers (Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Orkney-based Gemma McGregor) and a video producer (Craig Sinclair) going to Orkney to film content for our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival, which will be premiered on 3rd September. It’s quite an operation in the covid age, but a process that musicians and producers alike are having to get used to in this strange new world. Pre-travel testing, health questionnaires, rigorous planning to allow for safe travel, accommodation and distancing whilst working.
Hopefully all will go to plan, we can enjoy the amazing history and scenery that Orkney has to offer and produce some exciting and engaging content.
Another landmark moment is working with a visual artist, Orla Stevens. Orla will interpret the landscapes and seascapes around us as well as interpreting the emotional responses of the composers as they explore the places that inspired their music.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 2nd July marks Nordic Viola’s return to live performance and I am so happy that this should happen in the Northern Isles. Gemma McGregor and I will perform a programme of music for flute and viola entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North.” We will play some of our own music as well as music by Ailie Robertson and Electra Perivolaris, two of the most exciting young composers on the Scottish scene. The Faroes and Denmark will be represented with pieces by Kári Bæk and Kristain Rasmussen, who is currently studying in Aberdeen. There’ll also be traditional music from Shetland and Orkney and a brand new tune composed for the occasion by Orkney fiddler, Fiona Driver.
The end of May saw Nordic Viola playing together under the same roof for the first time since March 2020! And what a way to start, bringing our new commission, “Aud” by Linda Buckley, to life for the first time as we recorded “Sagas and Seascapes” for Orkney International Science Festival 2021. It’s always an amazing feeling to realise a new work and I love that collaborative process of working with a composer as we work together to unite the concepts of what they imagined as they created the music and how we interpret those dots as performers.
Covid made that experience slightly unusual as we went straight into the recording studio with “Aud” and still haven’t heard the complete score. I’m on absolute tenterhooks whilst Linda and our amazing recording team, Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden work their magic and unite musicians with the electronic soundtrack.
Already the music has such a strong sense of journeying, depicting as it does Aud the Deep-Minded‘s journey from Ireland via Caithness, Orkney, and the Faroes before settling in Iceland. There is so much energy in the shifting textures and a sense of the music “flickering” through the distinct timbres of the three string instruments and the clarinet. It’s easy to think of string instruments as one body, but Linda’s writing really highlights how the colour of each pitch can vary across the three instruments.
There’s also a strong sense of yearning in the music – perhaps for that very human desire to be on the move and to explore that so many of us have missed during lockdown.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (Faroese: the Legend of the Seal Woman in 10 Pictures) is inspired by a set of 10 drawings by Faroese artist Edward Fuglø, which were originally drawn for the 2007 stamp issue titled Kópakonan (the Seal Woman).
Edward Fuglø’s drawings illustrate the Faroese legend of a female selkie, a mythological Ecapable of transforming from seal to human by shedding its skin, who is forced to live as a human when a young man from the village of Mikladalur steals her sealskin.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum was commissioned by Aura Duo and was composed with the support of Koda Kultur. The piece was due to be premiered in the Faroes in 2020/1 but has had to be postponed due to Covid. We’ll be introducing Eli and the Aura Duo to you in August.
Elsewhen by Lillie Harris
In our biggest ensemble to date, we recorded Lillie Harris‘ “Elsewhen” an incredibly eery, almost primitive at times (think stomping, Rite-of-Spring-style chords) depiction of Orkney’s prehistoric monuments and how they have come to us through time. “Elsewhen” is written for flute, clarinet and string quartet and, as well as its eery textures and footstamping rhythms, it features yearning melodies in the wind instruments and violins.
Lillie is an old friend of Nordic Viola, writing my first commission, “AND” for solo viola. She has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of a place, sometimes prior to even visiting it. “Elsewhen” was originally composed for the St. Magnus Composers’ Course in 2017.
As well as our audio team, we had Craig Sinclair working on video and Matthew Smith on lighting and, as you can see above, they created a stunning stage for us to work on. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to record in the RSNO’s purpose-built New Auditorium.
Filming in Orkney
Craig is now in the driving seat as the composers, Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Gemma McGregor head to Orkney to capture footage of the landscapes, monuments and tales that inspired their music. Craig and I first worked together on “Histories and Herstories” during lockdown last year. Despite being reliant on stock footage, I loved how he matched the rhythm of the music with film and I’m eager to see how much more can be done when he is set free to film on location.
In another first for us, the emotions of the composers as they explore these historic sites and experience the nature and seascapes of Orkney will be captured and interpreted by landscape artist Orla Stevens. Orla, too is fascinated by seastories and landscapes and often captures the energy of the sea in paintings with a considerable textural element to them. She is also a keen musician and is interested in exploring the parallels between rhythm in music and art. I’m very excited and intrigued to see how she interprets these musical worlds.
We’re at the halfway point in our Seastories Competition. We’ve received some very imaginative entries from Shetland, the Faroes and Greenland. Last Saturday Gemma McGregor led our first international zoom workshop alongside myself and Faroese trombonist and, on this occasion, interpreter, Dávur Juul Magnussen.
We explored ways of creating music about the sea and the techniques we could use to expand our musical ideas. We also took time to share our experiences of the sea in our home countries and explored common stories, such as legends across the North Atlantic about seals, and also explored Norse words that have survived in dialect in the Northern Isles. At a time when travel is nigh on impossible, I hope we were able to help the young people imagine a world beyond their own shores and to connect with others whose cultures overlap with ours.
We’ll announce our competition winners next week.
Live in Orkney
I’ll leave you with a wee teaser – whilst I’m in Orkney, I’ll be performing in a programme entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” with composer Gemma McGregor on flute. We’re in Stromness Town Hall on Friday 2nd July at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here. Tickets are strictly limited due to Covid, so you need to book in advance.
More on the programme next time.
As you can see, there’s a lot happening with Nordic Viola at the moment. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can subscribe here:
Finally, I’d like to thank our funders: Creative Scotland, PRSF Women Make Music for supporting Linda Buckley, The Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund for allowing me to learn more about video alongside Craig Sinclair and the William Syson Foundation for supporting our education work.